When will we all go back to the office? The answer might be never. Working from home could be here to stay.
For the millions of Americans who have worked at home since shutdowns in response to COVID-19 began in March, office life is starting to fade into a distant memory as take-out food orders, homeschooling and masked trips to the grocery store have become a way of life.
But with some states beginning to allow businesses to at least partially reopen, there seems to be some hope that the long-lost daily grind of commuting to the office, chatting at the water cooler and conducting meetings in a conference room rather than online could return soon.
When working from home becomes the new normal
The truth is, though, that it probably won’t. Large companies across the US are already rethinking how much office space they need, as those employees fortunate enough to still have jobs have generally transitioned to remote work fairly smoothly.
With no vaccine and no proven treatment yet in place, the risk of catching COVID-19 at the office still exists. Right now, that’s still the main reason why offices are remaining dark and workers are parked in their home offices. But even after COVID-19 fades, however and whenever that might happen, working from home isn’t likely to go back to being an exception. It might very well be the rule.
That makes moving a business or firm to the cloud not just a temporary measure for today but also a way to prepare for the reality of tomorrow.
Why working from home is here for now …
There are a few factors that will continue to make remote work the standard for those who can manage it:
Risk of infection. Again, quite simply, just about any public indoor space full of people carries a risk of transmitting COVID-19, which has no cure and no proven treatment.
School closures. Many schools across the US are closed until the end of the school year, meaning parents are having to balance work with homeschooling, babysitting or some combination of the two. For families with two working parents or with a single parent who works, getting to the office with school shut down would be nearly impossible even if offices were to open again. The kicker is that there’s no guarantee that schools in many parts of the country will reopen in the fall—and even if they do, they might have to shut down again if cases spike in a particular area or a second wave of the virus hits.
Unpredictability of COVID-19. There are a couple of factors at play here. Again, with the virus not fully under control, most states are likely to advise those workers who can work from home to continue to do so in order to minimize infections. Then there are employees themselves. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus or live with loved ones who will be unlikely to want to return to an office environment until COVID-19 is under control, likely via a vaccine. Since a vaccine is not likely to arrive for a year or more, some employees will prefer, or even need, to work from home until it’s safe for them to return to the office.
… and why working from home might be here to stay
Cost savings. The mass transition to remote work has convinced many executives that offices aren’t really that necessary after all. Saving money on rent, infrastructure and other necessities of a physical office appeals to big companies—and it should appeal to small businesses and firms, too. As customers and clients get used to working with companies remotely, which is quickly happening now, the need for a physical location will diminish for businesses of all sizes. (Even billionaires are betting that the commercial real estate market will collapse.) Running a small business or CPA firm in the cloud is, after all, a lot cheaper than maintaining a physical location.
Antiquated office design. Along those same lines, experts now say that the “open” office design that has become so popular in the last decade or so might no longer be safe under the threat of a global pandemic. After all, not only could COVID-19 itself return even if its threat does subside in the coming months, the severity of the pandemic has taught many business leaders that they need to be prepared in case another virus like it strikes again in the future. But is it worth the cost of redesigning offices—breaking down open plans, re-installing cubicles, creating more individual offices, putting more space between work areas—just to keep a physical location safely open? It might very well not be.
Employee preferences. The opportunity to work from home used to be a perk for many companies looking to recruit talent. Post-coronavirus, it’s more likely to be a requirement. At the very least, many prospective workers for small and large companies alike are likely to ask for the flexibility of being able to work from home. Some will expect or even demand to work from home full time having had the opportunity to try it during lockdowns. When hiring restarts in earnest, companies are going to have to be in a position to offer remote work in order to attract talent.
The importance of being in the cloud for working at home
With working from home likely to be part of the new normal post-coronavirus, small businesses and CPA firms need to look at moving operations to the cloud. Only a cloud provider can provide small businesses and firms with the support and security they need to enable employees to work remotely.
Running a remote business outside the cloud is fraught with risk and uncertainty. But a cloud provider can offer:
- A way for employees to work simultaneously in the same applications
- Enterprise-class security that can shut down malicious attacks before they start
- Automatic backup of information and updating of critical business applications
- 24/7 technical support from a team of cloud and business-application experts
- The same speed and reliability that the largest corporations enjoy
Working from home isn’t just for now. It’s for the future. And small businesses and CPA firms can be ready for it today by moving to the cloud.